Braised Lamb Shanks with White Bean and Vegetable Ragout
6 lbs. lamb shanks, “cracked” into 2 or 3 sections each
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup dry red wine
2 cups chicken stock
6-inch length of fresh rosemary
1 lb. dried white beans, (Navy, flageolet, etc.), picked through and soaked overnight
1 tbsp. salt
½ lb. Bacon, cut into small pieces
1 lb. mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 small onion, diced
½ cup celery, diced
½ cup carrot, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken (or vegetablbroth)
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup diced tomatoes, (use fresh if they’re in season)
2 cups frozen artichoke hearts
½ cup fresh flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 tbsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
STEP 1:Begin preparing lamb: Preheat your oven to 450F. Rinse the shanks in water, then drain them in a colander. Pat the shanks dry with paper towels and place them in a large roasting pan. Sprinkle the shanks generously with salt and pepper on all sides. Next, place the roasting pan into the hot oven and begin browning the meat. After 10-12 minutes, turn lamb pieces over to brown other sides. Repeat every 10 minutes or so, or until lamb shanks are browned all over. Remove from oven.
STEP 2:Turn oven to 300F. Tilt the roasting pan enough that melted fat, if any, can be removed with a spoon. Discard any fat. Now pour the red wine over all the shanks and return the roasting pan to the oven. After about 15 minutes add the chicken stock to the roasting pan; place the piece of rosemary into the center of the pan. Cover the lamb shanks with a piece of parchment paper, then tightly cover the pan with foil. Return the roasting pan to the oven and allow to braise for 2-3 hours. Begin preparing ragout while lamb braises.
STEP 3:Begin white bean ragout: Place the soaked beans into a soup pot and fill with enough water to cover them with an inch of water. Bring the beans to a boil over high heat then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer the beans until they have just turned tender, about 25 minutes, then add the salt. Simmer a few minutes longer and, once the beans are completely tender, cover the pot with its lid and remove from the stove. Allow the beans to slowly cool to room temperature.
STEP 4:While lamb braises and beans simmer, begin cooking the bacon in a large non-stick sauté pan over medium-low heat. Stir and cook until all the bacon has browned nicely, about 20 minutes. Next, use a slotted spoon to remove the browned bacon bits and place them in a small bowl. Heat the sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the sliced mushrooms. Sprinkle the mushrooms with a large pinch of salt and stir and cook until their juices have cooked away and they are nicely browned. Add the onion, celery and carrot and reduce heat to medium-low. Gently cook the mushroom mixture until the diced vegetables begin to soften, then add the garlic. Stir and cook the garlic another minute or two. Remove vegetable mixture from heat and set aside.
STEP 5:Finish lamb and ragout: Check lamb to see if the meat is getting tender. If not, continue to braise another hour or until meat is very tender. Once the meat is tender, remove roasting pan from oven, place the pieces of shank onto a sheet pan and cover them with foil. Place the lamb shanks into an oven turned to a very low (WARM or 170F) temperature to keep them warm.
STEP 6:Pour the braising liquid into a fat-separating measuring cup and, batch by batch, pour the liquid into a large sauce pan. Discard the fat. Turn the flame to a simmer and allow the braising liquid to reduce by about one third, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Keep the braising liquid warm for serving.
STEP 7:Once the lamb braising liquid has begun to simmer, finish the white bean ragout. Drain the beans into a large colander set into a large bowl. Place the beans into a large soup pot. Add about a cup of the bean liquid, the chicken broth, the cream and the mushroom mixture from the sauté pan. Stir and bring the bean mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and allow simmer 20 minutes or so. Next, add the tomatoes and the artichoke hearts to the ragout. Season the ragout with salt and freshly ground pepper.
STEP 8:Finish the recipe and serve: Mix the fresh parsley, thyme and rosemary together and add half to the simmering white bean ragout. Ladle a large spoonful of ragout onto warm serving plates and place a warm piece of lamb shank on top. Ladle a spoonful of warm braising liquid over the top of each lamb shank and sprinkle with the chopped fresh herbs. Serve hot. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
COOK’S NOTE: This is not a difficult recipe to prepare, but it does take time. On the positive side, both the lamb shanks and the ragout can be prepared in advance and served a day or two later. Also, if you have the time and the inclination, the lamb may be browned outdoors over a grill to brown and render off some fat. The smokiness is very tasty in the finished dish!